Graduation day with the Open University

Yesterday, after six long years of study, I graduated from the Open University with a BA (hons) degree in English Literature and Language.

A photo of me and my mum at my graduation ceremony

My mum and I at my graduation ceremony

Graduation Day was something I hardly ever thought about during my studies.

It was a mysterious glimmer of light in the distance, something I wasn’t sure I would experience, given how tough it was juggling studies with work and writing books. There were times when I wondered whether or not I could carry on with it, but I’m glad I never gave up.

And so, on Saturday September 19th, the day had finally come. And it was more wonderful and special than I could have ever imagined.

The ceremony was held at the stunning Barbican Centre. I didn’t really know how it would all come together on the day, but thankfully it was brilliantly organised.

A photograph of the Barbican Centre's main hall

A view from where my family were sat, in the Barbican Centre

This might sound strange, but I wasn’t expecting to feel quite so much on the day of my graduation ceremony… Of course I was relieved I’d got through it and thrilled with what I’d achieved, but I didn’t imagine the event itself would be all that emotional. I’d pictured a very long, and very formal service, and I didn’t think it would be at all lively. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

An unexpectedly strong wave of emotion rushed over me when I picked up my gown. I had to try pretty hard not to burst into tears while picking up the robes, although I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time they’d seen it happen!

The ceremony itself, set inside the main hall, was electrifying. Beautiful, live classical music, and the jubilant, joyful approach of the university made the atmosphere magical.

IMG_3619The audience was encouraged to cheer on loved ones as noisily as possible, which at times was incredibly moving (and also sounded like rugby match!). There were spine tingling moments when children shrieked with delight as their parents received their scrolls.

It’s hard to describe how it felt when my name was called out and it was my turn to walk across the stage. My heart was pounding, because it’s always pretty nerve wracking to be up there in front of that many people, but it was fantastic. I will never forget it.

Because of the Open University is centred around distance learning (full or part time), with the option to take breaks if needed, it attracts a real mix of people.

Some students are more mature than the traditional residential university intake, perhaps having chosen to study later in life for personal development reasons. Some may have been misunderstood, or told at school that they simply ‘weren’t very academic’, only to feel like they had been written off. For them, further education felt completely out of reach, until later on when they discovered how capable they really were. Some may not have been able to afford to go to university, or might have struggled in their personal lives, having to defer their dreams while they overcame unimaginable challenges.

I think these factors made the graduation ceremony particularly powerful. I knew that so many of the people in that room had overcome even more than completing hundreds of diffcult TMAs (tutor marked assignments), and making those evening and weekend lectures on time. They took notes in the car while they waited to pick up children from school. They read into the early hours, falling asleep over their text books. They did whatever it took to make it work…

My experience with the Open University has been simply incredible. I cannot recommend it enough. When I got my first set of books ahead of my very first year, I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But somehow, I did.

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An experience like this teaches you so much more than the already fascinating elements of well-constructed courses about anything from philosophy to physics. You learn to perfect time management, and exercise levels of dedication and perseverance that you never even knew existed. I think an experience like that benefits students for the rest of their lives.

Not only were all the graduates so grateful to the university, but also to their friends and family members who supported them through it all. My mum, sister, niece, boyfriend, and his mum came to support me. I sure am thankful for them and many others in my life who helped me see this degree through with their love and patience.

I’m not sure what will happen next for me, but I hope my more formal learning is far from over. If I consider taking on another course in the future, I will be sure to go to back to the OU.

To find out more about the Open University, click here.

From novels to scripts…

Some of you may know that I am studying with the Open University when not writing books.

I started the course after finishing my senior journalism qualifications because I was keen for a new challenge. This can be tough going, but I’m glad I took it on.

My degree so far has involved reading texts, plays and other course materials set by the university. This year however, my course is much more practical, and involves writing for film, radio and television.

Even though I opted into this, it was a decision made with trepidation. I was looking over the course description, knowing it was the right thing to do, while feeling that tiny spark of  ‘Uh oh….. I have no bloody idea what I’m doing’ anxiety.

As writing books is my usual vehicle for creativity, I’m finding this part of my course particularly challenging. When it comes to novels I can write and write for hours. It’s something I’m familiar with, and I feel relatively comfortable doing it as long as I’m all set with the plot and characters.

But script writing, in whatever medium, has been particularly difficult but in the most positive way. The scripts have to be set out a certain format. There are different rules and conventions here, which for me as a writer of long stories was initially like having my wings clipped. I wasn’t very happy about it. How, how, how was I going express all this stuff with just a few lines of dialogue?

Everything changes in script writing. For radio you have to tell a story primarily through sound and dialogue, with none of the long paragraphs dripping in visual imagery that I delight in writing. For film, you have to think of the kinds of shots to use to tell your story, and a long text of thousands of words can be cut significantly to make a scene of just seconds or minutes.

I’ve even had a go at putting a section of my debut novel This is a Love Story into a film script format (I cannot tell you how much I would like to develop this further…). I can’t say it was easy, but a brilliant way to open my mind as a writer to various ways something can be expressed.

Anyway, clearly I’m feeling super inspired by this. It’s great to be introduced to new ways of story telling. The Open University is a brilliant way to study that I would recommend to anyone.

I’m a big fan of TV comedy/sitcoms, from The Mighty Boosh to Girls and Spaced. I’m watching everything from a different viewpoint, picking it apart, and really thinking about how it was created and why everything is done as it is. It’s an exciting thing to learn new methods, even if I am just at the tip of the iceberg of a highly-skilled way of working.

I’d like to hear from fellow writers of novels. Have you written books or long stories and tried turning your work into a script or excerpt for the radio? How have you found it?

My studies are far from being a series of educational hoops I have to jump through in order to achieve an end result. They have turned into something that I hope will influence and inspire future projects and ideas.